9 November 2011
Students have lunch at St. Charles School in Achrafieh located in east Beirut. 784 students, Muslim and Christian, attend St. Charles. (photo: Sarah Hunter)
In the July 2008 issue of ONE Spencer Osberg explored the role of Catholic Schools in Lebanon during and after the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war:
The war is over, but Lebanon’s Catholic educators continue to provide a well-rounded education to all, regardless of creed. Today, the country’s 365 Catholic schools instruct some 200,000 students — about 22 percent of Lebanon’s school-age population — from all of Lebanon’s 18 officially recognized religious communities. Over 25 percent of the total student body is Muslim and, in many schools, Muslim students are the majority. Likewise, the approximately 12,800 teaching staff and 900 administrators employed by the Catholic school system represent every confession.
At Notre Dame College, a school of the Antonine Sisters in the southern village of Nabatieh, most students are Muslim.
“Our students in Nabatieh are as dear to us as our students in Ghazir,” said Sister Dominique. “Muhammad, Hassan, Ahmed, Tony, Joseph or George, it’s the same thing. We do not distinguish between them. We love them all.”
For more from this story see Pillars of Lebanon.
8 November 2011
Tags: Lebanon Beirut Catholic Schools
In this unpublished 2003 photo from our archive, a woman prays at an Orthodox church in
Kamishly, Syria. (photo: Armineh Johannes)
With all of the news of violence and unrest coming from Syria, we want to remind you all to keep the people of Syria in your prayers and thoughts:
The death toll from Syria’s revolt was reported on Tuesday to have mounted significantly as government troops pursued a bloody assault to retake Homs, the country’s third-largest city, where loyalists are facing armed defectors who have prevented the government’s forces from seizing it as they did other restive locales this summer.
The confrontation may stand as one of the most violent episodes of the eight-month uprising.
For more from this story see Death Toll in Syria Mounts as Government Assault Continues on NYTimes.com. To learn more about Syria’s Christian community, check our our feature from last year’s Special Edition on Christians in the Middle East.
4 November 2011
Tags: Syria Middle East Syriac Orthodox Church
Seminarian Sleiman Hassan, 24, from Fuhais, Jordan, prays after lighting a candle before mass in St. Joseph Parish in Jifna, West Bank. (photo: Debbie Hill)
Today, according to the Latin calendar, is the feast day for Saint Charles Borromeo, a man sometimes called the "Father of the Clergy," and the patron saint of seminarians. In the the March issue of ONE magazine, Michele Chabin reported on the the challenges facing young seminarians in the Holy Land:
“I plan to do pastoral work and I’m preparing myself for the needs of the people,” says Mr. Hassan, a native of Jordan, who attends the Latin Patriarchal Seminary in Beit Jala, a town adjacent to Bethlehem.
“I’ve learned that life isn’t easy here, but the fact that it’s complicated challenges me to find new ways to help people and address their suffering.”
Not until shortly before noon does Mr. Hassan take a break from his duties and rest a little before tackling the three–hour drive back to the seminary.
For more from this story see, To Be a Priest in the Holy Land.
3 November 2011
Tags: Middle East Holy Land Jordan Seminarians Vocations (religious)
An Armenian village in Kessab, Syria, taken in 1997. (photo: Armineh Johannes)
Photographer Armineh Johannes has documented life for Armenians living throughout the Middle East for years. This photo from the Armenian village Kessab is a snapshot of a people who have maintained their traditions and culture outside of their home country. The story Little Armenia profiles Armenians now living in Lebanon:
After the near annihilation of the Armenian community by the Turks between 1895 and 1915 (an estimated 1.5 million Armenians perished), survivors found refuge in French-protected Lebanon and Syria. Most of these refugees settled in Beirut, particularly in the suburb of Bourj Hammoud. Those who settled in rural Lebanon, notably in the village of Anjar in the Bekaa valley, arrived more than two decades later.
Determined to preserve their cultural identity, religion, language and traditions, these Armenian refugees established clubs, schools, churches, hospitals and dispensaries. Today they attend Armenian churches and schools, eat Armenian food, speak Armenian and read Armenian periodicals. Whether members of the Armenian Apostolic, Catholic or Evangelical churches, Lebanon’s Armenians live in harmony. Although tight-knit, they too are affected by the specters of unemployment, emigration and cultural disintegration haunting all Lebanese.
For more from this story, see Little Armenia in the July 2002 issue of the magazine.
31 October 2011
Tags: Syria Middle East Armenia
A nun reads a bible outside of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
(photo: Paul Souders)
Today Palestine became a full member of UNESCO, the U.N. cultural and educational agency:
Huge cheers went up in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization after delegates approved the membership in a vote of 107-14 with 52 abstentions. Eighty-one votes were needed for approval in a hall with 173 UNESCO member delegations present.
“Long Live Palestine!” shouted one delegate, in French, at the unusually tense and dramatic meeting of UNESCO's General Conference.
While the vote has large symbolic meaning, the issue of borders of an eventual Palestinian state, security troubles and other disputes that have thwarted Middle East peace for decades remain unresolved.
For more from this story see, UN cultural agency grants full membership to Palestine.
28 October 2011
Tags: Palestine Jerusalem Holy Sepulchre
A boy plays near the construction site of a new facility at New Orthodox School in Madaba. (photo: Joseph Zakarian)
In our July 2010 cover story, journalist Nicholas Seeley reported on the revitalization of Orthodox schools in Jordan. In the story we learned that these schools also acted as a foundation for interfaith collaboration and tolerance:
“I’m in a Christian school, but I wear my Muslim veil, and nobody asks me, ‘Why are you wearing that?’ It’ normal,” says Tyba Hardan, an Iraqi-born sophomore in her first year at Amman’s Patriarch Diodoros I School.
Most teachers and students say that preventing sectarianism is not a concern and that the schools remain places where people of different faiths build trust and respect.
“That respect develops when you work with children from kindergarten through high school. They sit together, Christians and Muslims, and they grow up together. This is our contribution,” Archimandrite Innokentios says, “teaching them, guiding them into this way of accepting one another.”
For more see, Rebuilding a Sure Foundation.
26 October 2011
Tags: Children Jordan
Archbishop Elias Chacour, the Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop of Akko, Haifa, Nazareth and All Galilee addresses the audience at St. Paul’s University in Ottawa, Canada. (photo: Elias Mallon)
Anyone wondering about the future of Christianity in the Middle East could find some fascinating answers last weekend in Canada, where a symposium on that topic was held at St. Paul’s University in Ottawa. It was sponsored by the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies and CNEWA — and I was invited to take part in a panel discussion.
The main speaker was Archbishop Elias Chacour, the Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop of Akko, Haifa, Nazareth and All Galilee. Archbishop Chacour, the first native Palestinian Arab to be named a Melkite archbishop in Israel, refers to himself as “the other man from Galilee.” It is a title he deserves. He has worked for peace, justice and reconciliation between Christians, Jews and Muslims for decades. He is the author of several books, the most famous of which, Blood Brothers, has been translated into 20 languages.
Living for years in poverty in the small Israeli Palestinian Arab town of Ibilin, he worked to bring opportunities for education not only for his own Christian people, but also for Muslim and Jewish children in the area. His goal has been not only to educate the youth academically, but also to acquaint them with their Muslim and Jewish neighbors, defusing hatred and hopefully contributing to a just and lasting peace.
Nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize, Archbishop Chacour has worked tirelessly to make the world aware of the plight of Palestinians. In this he is not different from many others. What makes him stand out is that, while making the oppressed and unjust situation of the Palestinians clear to the world, he is at the same time very careful not to demonize Israeli Jews. Again and again, he warns his readers and his followers against the danger of contributing to a circle of hatred and violence that constantly threatens to engulf the region.
For years I have wanted to meet this other man from Galilee and was fortunate at the symposium to have several conversations with him. The encounters were not disappointing. He has a quick sense of humor. Being with him, you feel that he is somewhere between a prophet and a beloved uncle. In Arabic he is popularly known as abuna ilyas, “Father Elias,” which happens to be what I am called in Arabic, too. We joked about the presence of two “Eliases” at the symposium. He quickly puts people at ease and it is easy to overlook that you are in the presence of a truly great man.
At the symposium, Archbishop Chacour met with members of the Roman Catholic, Eastern Catholic and Orthodox churches. The future of Christianity is on the mind of these and of all Christians in the Middle East. Emigration, discrimination and outright persecution are factors that are reducing the presence of Christians in the very lands where Christianity was born. Archbishop Chacour’s comments to those who had suffered discrimination and even persecution because they were Christian were extraordinary. He understood their anger and pain; indeed he had experienced many of the same things. However, he reminded them all of the necessity to forgive and to work for reconciliation.
The symposium also included panels with scholars, clergy and the Honorable Jason Kenney, a member of the Canadian Parliament and a minister in the current government. There were lively and informed discussions on the complex problems facing all the peoples, but especially Christians in the Middle East. While no solutions were offered of course, the message of Archbishop Chacour gives us reason to believe that the situation is not hopeless.
Catholic News Service has more on Archbishop Chacour and his background at this link.
17 October 2011
Tags: Middle East Christians Christianity Unity Christian-Muslim relations Middle East Peace Process
In a grove near the West Bank city of Nablus a woman sorts olives. (photo: Ahikam Seri)
Yesterday, Israel announced the names of 477 Palestinian prisoners who will be released in exchange for a soldier held by Hamas. Many of the prisoners were convicted of violent and deadly crimes committed against Palestinians and Israelis:
They also noted that of the 6,000 or so remaining Palestinian prisoners in Israel, hundreds were being held without being charged while others were held under administrative detention for crimes amounting to political activism. And they said Israelis and others minimized the terrible toll on the families of people held for years, not knowing if or when they would be released.
“One of the reasons we want Palestine to be recognized as a state by the United Nations is so that our people being held by Israel will be recognized for what they are: prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention,” a top intelligence official in Ramallah said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not permitted to speak publicly.
All of this comes as Palestinian leaders continue to seek recognition of statehood from the United Nations, which some believe could finally lead to peace in the region. For some context on some of the challenges leaders will face in negotiations to define a Palestinian/Israeli border, check out the intensive multimedia package on the New York Times website, Challenges in Defining an Israeli-Palestinian Border.
Life in Palestine was the focus of a story in the January 2009 issue of ONE, when journalist Hanne Foighel reported on a small but significant part of Palestinian life and culture, the olive:
As Ms. Lavie picked olives, she became friendly with her Palestinian coworkers. One family told her about their youngest son who is in an Israeli prison and the father who used to work as a cook in Israel but no longer has a permit to enter the state. According to Ms. Lavie, the family longs for the time when Israelis and Palestinians can live and work together in peace.
“I am meeting people who really want peace and I feel that by being here with them I am helping the situation to be a little less violent.”
Looking out over his land, Nabeeh Aldeeb was moved by what he saw: Palestinians and Israelis picking olives together.
“I feel that the politicians are very far away from the people,” he said with a sigh as olives from a nearby tree dropped softly and the distinct smell of the fruit filled the early autumn air.
For more from this story see, Olive Offerings by Hanne Foighel.
11 October 2011
Tags: Gaza Strip/West Bank Palestinians
A woman prays in a church in Deir Azra, a Christian village in Upper Egypt. (photo: Holly Pickett)
Sunday night in Cairo a demonstration turned deadly when military officials opened fire on a group of Christian demonstrators, killing some two dozen of them, the New York Times reported:
Coptic leaders issued an unusually pointed statement charging that the demonstrators were set up to take the blame for a crackdown. “Strangers got in the middle of our sons and committed mistakes to be blamed on our sons,” the statement said, claiming that acts of discrimination or aggression against Copts repeatedly “go unpunished.”
In a measure of their growing distrust of the military-led government, the families of the Copts killed in the violence decided they did not trust government-run facilities to perform autopsies, fearing the results might hide evidence of the violence by security forces. After hours of deliberation with priests, activists and human rights groups, they arranged to bring forensic teams to a Coptic hospital, causing the funeral to be called off.
Inside the hospital, Mariam Telmiz, 40, sat at the bedside of a brother-in-law who had been wounded by a bullet at the demonstration. Another brother-in-law had been killed by a bullet.
The military was ready to protect Egyptian Muslims who carried a Saudi flag or even pulled the Israeli flag off its embassy, she said, “but the one who holds his cross high gets humiliated.”
For more on this story read Copts Denounce Egyptian Government Over Killings in today’s New York Times or Copts Mourn Victims in Cairo Protest from the Catholic News Service.
In the current issue of ONE, Cairo-based journalist Sarah Topol reported on some of the difficulties faced by Christian women in Egypt in the story Spotlight: Coptic Women. In the video below, Sarah talks about what it’s like to be a woman journalist in Egypt during such a challenging time.
6 October 2011
Tags: Egypt Africa Coptic Christians
The Melkite Greek Catholic Warood School in Aleppo, Syria, enrolls 350 students from preschool through sixth grade. (photo: Spencer Osberg)
In the November 2009 issue of ONE Spencer Osberg reported on the diverse community of Christians living in Aleppo, Syria, one of the “oldest continuously inhabited centers in the world”:
The Greek Melkite Catholic Church offers a host of social services. Since his installation in 1995, Archbishop Jeanbart has worked tirelessly to expand existing programs and has spearheaded many new ones.
“I feel as a pastor I have to do my part to help our people to remain, to try and help the youth not to emigrate.”
The archbishop focuses much of his energy on the archeparchy’s numerous educational institutions. Under his watch, the archeparchy has opened six vocational schools that provide training in business, tourism, nursing and other skilled trades. The archbishop expressed hope the schools would enable a new generation of Syrian Christians to “find a good job and encourage them to remain in the country — to continue living in this country where we have been for 2,000 years.”
In addition, the archeparchy administers numerous and well-regarded elementary and secondary schools. Open to all Syrians regardless of creed, these schools are diverse and dynamic centers of learning and culture, often enrolling more non-Christian than Christian students. Depending on a family’s ability to pay, the church awards generous financial aid packages to qualifying students and in some cases waives school tuition and fees altogether.
For more about Aleppo see Aleppo: A Syrian Mosaic by Spencer Osberg. For more about the state of Syria’s Christians, check out last week’s blog post, Syria’s Christians: Are We Next?
Tags: Syria Middle East Christians Middle East Melkite Greek Catholic Church